Lab tests show polio vaccine is not ‘Haram’

Published January 14, 2015
Polio vaccine.—AFP/File
Polio vaccine.—AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: It is official. The polio vaccine being used to fight the crippling disease in our Islamic state is Halal.

A laboratory controlled by the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP) has tested the vaccine and certified that, according to information gathered by Dawn from official sources and documents.

Officials of the Ministry of National Health Services (NHS) said polio vaccines were registered in the country only after the expert committee on biological drugs and the Drug Registration Board of DRAP “thoroughly evaluated” them.

Know more: Arrangements made to launch new polio vaccine from July

Yet, many parents refuse the vaccination to their children under the notion that it is Haram.

Anti-polio campaign documents say the notion has been persisting since 2004 when obscurantist elements in the society spread the concoction that certain human hormones were deliberately added to the oral polio vaccine (OPV) to make children sterile.

Sadly, many polio workers paid with their lives or limbs for daring to carry on the battle against the disease.

But worse was the reversal that the battle against polio suffered as simple folks refused the vaccine, more out of fear of the obscurantist elements and the outlawed Taliban than the logic of their concocted claims.

This disturbing trend gained great strength, particularly in the tribal areas, after the revelations that it was a false hepatitis vaccine programme conducted by Pakistani physician Shakil Afridi in the neighbourhood of Osama bin Laden’s hideout in Abbottabad that helped the American CIA to hunt down and kill the al Qaeda leader in May 2011.

In June 2012, the Taliban banned polio vaccination in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata). And the vaccine became ‘Haram’ and unwanted even for the people not sympathetic to the Taliban.

Since then, new polio cases have risen to record 300, earning Pakistan the notoriety of being “the hub of polio virus”.

Misconception of ‘Haram’ played havoc with anti-polio programme and took lives of many polio workers

Officials said in a bid to erase the misconceived ‘Haram’ tag, three vaccine lots - MONO OPV1 Batch No. 132719 manufactured by Novartis, Italy; Polio Sabin Batch No. AOP4A393AA and Batch No. AOPVB996BA, both manufactured by GSK, Belgium, were sent to National Control Laboratory for Biologicals (NCLB) in Islamabad for testing.

Director NCLB Abdul Samad Khan certified that the samples were tested using methods that detected the human hormones in minute quantities. OPV dose is two drops and in this quantity none of the six possible hormones detected - not even at concentration as low as 0.0005mg.

The NCLB report showed that the samples passed the viral activity and sterility tests with no detectable level of human hormones.

Related documents contained answers to the frequently asked questions. They say the question generally asked is if the OPV contained hormones estrogen and progesterone that may cause infertility. None of the two hormones was detected.

Another question asked is that OPV is produced in monkey kidney cells and can become the cause of different diseases. The answer given is that the World Health Organisation (WHO) thoroughly discussed the parameters for the production of polio vaccine and found no virus in the vaccine which could cause a disease.

Still another question usually asked is that why OPV is not produced in Pakistan? The answer is that polio vaccine was manufactured in the country from 1980 to 2003 from imported concentrate using old formulation of six drops per dose.

That vaccine was difficult to administer and often spilled outside the mouth of a child. The present vaccine is two drops per dose, is more stable and easy to administer.

Though polio vaccine can be manufactured locally as before, but in the near future OPV will be replaced with an injectable one. So it is preferable to import the vaccine.

At present, only Indonesia, Belgium, India, Italy and France manufacture OPV.

Pakistan purchases the vaccine from manufacturers prequalified by the WHO, which also inspects the manufacturing and testing laboratories.

Though there is no need to test the quality of the vaccine, it can be, and occasionally is, tested locally for safety, say the documents.

Medical specialist and vice chancellor of the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (Pims) Dr Javed Akram agreed that there was no need to do lab test because the vaccine was made by genetic engineering in which DNA of virus was taken and multiplied.

“Genetic engineering has nothing to do with Halal and Haram,” he said, hoping that the sceptics would put more confidence in the vaccine after the report and start vaccinating their children.

National Manager Expanded Programme on Immunisation Rana Safdar hoped that the report would satisfy the religious elements who had been objecting to the polio vaccination.

“We conducted a campaign in collaboration with the International Islamic University to convince religious objectors that polio vaccine is Halal. Still now and then face criticism that vaccine is manufactured out of the country and WHO is also not a Pakistani organisation,” he said.

“We have always been clear about the potency, efficacy and safety of the vaccine and now that the lab tests have declared the same, the religious stigma should go away,” he said.

Published in Dawn January 14th , 2015

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